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Ubisoft explains why launch games underwhelm

Tony Key also notes that the $100 price difference between Xbox One and PS4 won't matter, and he expects installed base to quickly double last gen

During the months walking up to a console launch, there's a great unspoken truth the press, publishers and gamers all choose to conveniently ignore: The first batch of games are going to be pretty bad.

Sure, there might be an occasional standout, but the majority of the titles people heap with praise and say they can't wait to try are titles that will mostly be forgotten before the following holiday. Even installments of well-known franchises are generally just graphically enhanced versions of what we already know.

Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft, knows this better than anyone - and says there's actually a good reason launch lineups inevitably get middling reviews.

"Right now, all publishers are transitioning their development resources," he says. "For a game like Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, most of the sales are still going to be on current generation platforms. We can't make a version for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that's so wildly different that we can't market them together. So, for now, developers and designers are focused on making a game that works really well on all of the systems - but as we transition resources to the next gen, it's going to be more difficult to do that because the power of these machines is going to allow so much more creativity."

New franchises that are part of a system launch, meanwhile, can have rocky starts since specs don't get locked down until the last minute, giving them very little time to adequately polish the game.

"We can't make a version for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that's so wildly different that we can't market them together"

That's part of the reason Ubisoft decided to opt for a last-minute delay of Watch Dogs, arguably one of the most anticipated launch titles of both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

"It's heartbreaking to be so coveted for launch and not be able to deliver it at launch, but from a business perspective, it's not a difficult decision to make," says Key. "Watch Dogs is designed to be a long-term brand for Ubisoft. We won't launch it until we know it's equaling the vision it can achieve. ... We're playing the long game - and as a company, we know how important it is to get it right."

Ultimately, he says, pushing back the game will result in more sales than the publisher would otherwise have seen.

Ubisoft, not surprisingly, is all-in on the next generation systems. The company has a long history of being an early, avid supporter of new technology - and has never been shy about giving its opinion.

Key has a few noteworthy ones on the PS4/Xbox One battle. For instance, that $100 price difference? He doesn't expect it to make any difference to players, as long as both consoles can show players why their systems are worth the price.

The only way it will become an issue, he says, is if the PS4 begins to look demonstrably better than the Xbox One.

And while there has certainly been a fair bit of attention paid to the social aspects of the machines, Key says he still thinks they're being undervalued.

"Think about all the things we've learned socially since the last consoles launched seven years ago," he says. "Facebook was still at Harvard. Smartphones were in their infancy. All these changes that occurred were factored into not only this hardware, but into the games as well. ... You'll see over the next year or so how consumers drive innovation on that as people begin sharing things we completely didn't expect. I think it will be the wild card in the future of these systems."

In part because of this, he disagrees with critics who believe this generation of consoles will fall short of the sales numbers we've seen this time around.

"Our feeling is the installed base of these machines will be much faster to take hold than previous generations. In the first couple of years, we expect double the installed based of previous generations"

"Our feeling is the installed base of these machines will be much faster to take hold than previous generations," he says. "In the first couple of years, we expect double the installed base of previous generations [during that same time period]. ... The reason why is: the last cycle was longer, so there's a lot of pent up demand."

There's demand on the developer side, too, he says - as the horsepower fueling the new consoles gives game makers the chance to do things they haven't been able to dream about previously. And, he says, those great strides aren't too far away.

"There's so much more under the hood," says Key. "Give them just a little more time and you're going to see the difference start to build. The amount of innovation that's going to occur around these machines is really going to inspire the category.

"That's what we need: We need to bring excitement back to this industry."

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Chris Morris avatar

Chris Morris


Chris Morris has covered the video game industry since 1996, offering analysis of news and trends and breaking several major stories. He was the author of CNNMoney’s 'Game Over' and has also written for Yahoo!, Variety,, and other publications.